Plans are chugging along to build a rail spur on soggy Vancouver farmland near the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad line east of Interstate 205.
But in order to fill wetlands at the Vancouver site, the rail spur’s developer will have to enhance a wetland in Ridgefield. That site is about eight miles north of the project area, a transfer that is allowed as long as both wetlands are in the same watershed, said Travis Goddard, program coordinator for Clark County’s environmental services department.
“Our first priority is to do on-site mitigation,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is insufficient area on that (rail spur) site.”
The industrial site, off Northeast 101st Street in Vancouver, is about two blocks east of Northeast 72nd Avenue.
In an earlier proposal, Dave Burton, a land developer with Clark County-based Symmetry Inc., offered to enhance the wetlands on a tract closer to the site. But that area was outside the watershed, which serves Salmon Creek.
“It was a long, drawn-out process and then it was denied,” said Burton, who plans to develop the rail spur to serve an equipment yard to be built nearby for DeWitt Construction, a Vancouver-based heavy construction contractor.
“They wanted to be on the rail line to cut down on costs,” Burton said of DeWitt.
DeWitt’s current Vancouver equipment yard is west of Interstate 5 and north of Northeast 134th Street. That site is not served by a railroad.
Burton said it could take another two to five years to build the rail spur, which would sit parallel to the track along the eastern border of DeWitt’s new site, about 9.5 acres in a light industrial zone next to the rail line. DeWitt Construction officials did not return calls for this story.
The company specializes in deep foundation pile driving, drilling and shoring work, which creates support systems for large commercial buildings and road projects.
“They (DeWitt) wanted to be on the rail line to bring in the steel pilings they need,” said Burton, adding that DeWitt Construction’s new location will be part of an industrial park. The entire complex would be served by the rail spur.
Burton has not yet proposed the project to county officials.
The site mitigation is the only proposal so far, according to Goddard.
“At this point, what he’s proposing is to flatten the site,” he said.
On the right track
Nevertheless, Goddard and other county officials are aware of Burton’s plans to develop a rail spur.
Much of the land near the mitigation site has been zoned for light manufacturing use since 1994, according to Oliver Orjiako, director of Clark County Community Planning.
More industrial development is expected in the area, despite its present-day rural character, with older farm houses situated on larger land tracts.
“Existing residential uses, without any increase in density, are permitted,” Orjiako said.
Burton expects more companies like DeWitt will want to locate along the 33-mile-long county-owned railroad.
“A lot of companies are realizing that being on a rail line is cost effective,” he said.
The trend will likely continue as companies look for ways to reduce the rising cost of fuel, said Jon Holladay, the county’s manager for the railroad.
“Every time it goes up, it moves the break point forward in favor of rail service,” he said.
Trains on the county-owned railroad are operated by the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, owned by Yakima-based Temple Industries. The county hired the private company in 2004. Since then, traffic along the county railroad has grown from about 60 rail cars per year to between 500 and 600 cars per year, Holladay said.